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Director's Blog

October 10, 2011

Welcome to Behind the Scenes of Deadline

Making a movie is a huge undertaking. As a producer-director it will literally take years of your life. For me, that means I must be passionate about the story. My passion for Deadline began when I read Mark Ethridge’s novel Grievances in 2007. As soon as I read it, I knew Mark’s story of two reporters from the big city investigating the cold case murder of an African American youth in a tiny Southern town should be our next movie. But first we had to win the battle for the rights. Mark had interest from producers in Hollywood. They all wanted to hire a professional screenwriter to adapt Mark’s novel and he would have no further involvement with the project. Our pitch was simple and proved decisive: If we option your book, we’d want you to write the screenplay. It’s your story. You’re the one who lived it. There’s no one better qualified to write it for the screen. And I’ll act as your screenwriting coach, walking you through each step of the process.

For the next fifteen months Mark and I worked to create the script for Deadline. It’s proven to be one of the most satisfying professional collaborations of my career, thanks primarily to Mark’s sheer talent as a writer coupled with his uncanny ability to listen to suggestions and find creative ways to incorporate them into the script. I’m sure there were times when we were editing draft number nine that he wanted to strangle me, but he never let it show. At the most he’d say, “Well, let me digest that.” And two days later he’d have re-written the scene, taking my suggestions and improving on them.

As we approached the filming dates, Mark asked how I felt about having the writer on the set. I told him I would love to have him with us as much as his schedule allowed. Here’s what he wrote about the experience.

“The two weeks that Kay and I spent on the Deadline set were wonderful and fascinating. I will admit that I cried almost every day. Sometimes I cried because I was seeing parts of my life that I had lived, including an actor playing me and an actor playing my dad as he died in a hospital. Sometimes I cried because I couldn’t believe I was lucky enough to be doing something so much fun among dozens and dozens of people who were just delighted to be able to practice their love, their craft, and were somehow of the erroneous impression that I was responsible for them having that opportunity. And sometimes I cried because the scene was just so damn good.”

The Tennessean produced this video story about the filming of Deadline:

Deadline movie shot at the Tennessean

Raising private equity to make a movie is never an easy task. We began looking for investors for Deadline in August of 2008 and the next month Lehman Brothers collapsed and the world economy plunged into recession. In short, it was the worst time to try to raise money since the Depression. But there was a silver lining: Everyone else was having trouble finding funding too. As a result, far fewer films were being made, meaning more outstanding actors were available and we’d be competing with fewer movies once Deadline was finished, if we could get it made.

So in August 2010 I decided to borrow the money to make Deadline myself. I proposed my plan to my CEO roundtable, fully expecting to receive a range of opinions from the diverse group of chief executives. I was surprised when they all enthusiastically endorsed the idea. They liked the business model we’d created for producing and releasing Deadline, and felt that our story about two investigative reporters would be embraced by the press, helping get the word out. By the time I got back to Film House I had the biggest surprise of all: An email from one of my fellow CEOs asking if I was interested in having a partner on Deadline.

Hunter Atkins is the Chairman of The Bank of Nashville. We’ve been members of the CEO roundtable for six years. For most of that time Hunter was also the CEO of The Bank of Nashville, but since relinquishing that role he’s had more time for other interests and investments. He proposed we become partners in Deadline, with each of us funding 50% of the production budget and 50% of the initial P&A (prints and advertising) budget. I told him I was surprised by his offer and needed to think about it overnight.

The next day I told him my decision: I’d love to have him as a partner, because if we were successful with Deadline it could lead to additional partnerships with him. That was exactly what Hunter hoped as well. What had really impressed him was the fact that I was willing to fund the entire movie myself.

Life’s funny. I had spent two years unsuccessfully chasing money to produce Deadline. When I finally gave up and decided to fund it myself, money chased me.

The Tennessean wrote about our partnership:

Nashville banker bitten by film bug